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Pohela Boisakh

Origin and locality

By SajidulPublished 5 months ago 6 min read

Pohela Boishakh (Bengali: পহেলা বৈশাখ)[n 1] is the first day of the Bengali calendar which is also the official calendar of Bangladesh. This festival is celebrated on 14 April in Bangladesh and 15 April in the Indian[2] states of West Bengal, Tripura, Jharkhand and Assam (Barak Valley) by Bengalis regardless of religious faith.[3][4]Celebration of Pohela Boishakh traces its roots to the traditions of Old Dhaka's Muslim community during Mughal rule,[7][8] as well as the proclamation of tax collection reforms of Akbar.[9]

The festival is celebrated with processions, fairs and family time. The traditional greeting for Bengalis in the new year is শুভ নববর্ষ "Shubho Noboborsho" which is literally "Happy New Year". The festive Mangal Shobhajatra is organised in Bangladesh. In 2016, the UNESCO declared this festivity organised by the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka as a cultural heritage of humanity.[10]History and origin
In Bengali, the word Pohela (or Pahela Bengali: পহেলা), alternatively Poila (Bengali: পয়লা), means 'first' and Boishakh (or Baishak Bengali: বৈশাখ) is the first month of the Bengali calendar (Bengali: পহেলা বৈশাখ Pohela Boishakh, Pahela Boishakh, Pahale Baishak or Bengali: পয়লা বৈশাখ Poila Boishakh). [n 1][22]

Bengali New Year is referred to in Bengali as Nobo Borsho (Bengali: নববর্ষ), where 'Nobo' means new and 'Borsho' means year.[23][24]

Mughal Emperor Akbar began the celebration of Bengali New Year and officialised the Bengali calendar to ease the tax collection process.
Traditional roots
Mughal origin theory
During Mughal rule, land taxes were collected from Bengali people according to the Islamic Hijri calendar. This calendar was a lunar calendar, and its new year did not coincide with the solar agricultural cycles. According to some sources, the festival was a tradition introduced in Bengal during the rule of Mughal Emperor Akbar to time the tax year to the harvest, and the Bangla year was therewith called Bangabda. Akbar asked the royal astronomer Fathullah Shirazi to create a new calendar by combining the lunar Islamic calendar and solar Hindu calendar already in use, and this was known as Fasholi shan (harvest calendar). According to some historians, this started the Bengali calendar. According to Shamsuzzaman Khan, it could be Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, a Mughal governor, who first used the tradition of Punyaho as "a day for ceremonial land tax collection", and used Akbar's fiscal policy to start the Bangla calendar.[9][25]According to Shamsuzzaman Khan,[26] and Nitish Sengupta, the origin of the Bengali calendar is unclear.[27] According to Shamsuzzaman, it is called Bangla shon or shaal, which are Arabic (سن) and Persian (سال) words respectively, suggests that it was introduced by a Muslim king or sultan."[26] In contrast, according to Sengupta, its traditional name is Bangabda.[27][28] It is also unclear, whether it was adopted by Alauddin Husain Shah or Akbar. The tradition to use the Bengali calendar may have been started by Husain Shah before Akbar.[27] Regardless of who adopted the Bengali calendar and the new year, states Sengupta, it helped collect land taxes after the spring harvest based on traditional Bengali calendar, because the Islamic Hijri calendar created administrative difficulties in setting the collection date.[27]Vikramaditya origin theory
Some historians attribute the Bengali calendar to the 7th-century Indian king Shashanka.[26][27] The term Bangabda (Bangla year) is found too in two Shiva temples many centuries older than Akbar era, suggesting that Bengali calendar existed before Akbar's time.[27] Various dynasties whose territories extended into Bengal, prior to the 13th-century, used the Vikrami calendar. Buddhist texts and inscriptions created in the Pala Empire era mention "Vikrama" and the months such as Ashvin, a system found in Sanskrit texts elsewhere in ancient and medieval Indian subcontinent.[23][29][30][31][32]

In rural Bengali communities of India, the Bengali calendar is credited to "Bikromaditto", like many other parts of India and Nepal. However, unlike these regions where it starts in 57 BCE, the Bengali calendar starts from 593 CE suggesting that the starting reference year was adjusted at some point.[33][34][35]Contemporary usage
In Bangladesh however, the old Bengali calendar was modified in 1966 by a committee headed by Muhammad Shahidullah, making the first five months 31 days long, rest 30 days each, with the month of Falgun adjusted to 31 days in every leap year.[36] This was officially adopted by Bangladesh in 1987. Since then, the national calendar starts with and the new year festival always falls on 14 April in Bangladesh.[36] In 2018–19, the calendar was amended again, with Falgun now lasting 29 days in regular years and to 30 days in leap ones, in an effort to more align with Western use of the Gregorian calendar. However, the date of the celebration, 14 April, was retained.The Bengali calendar in India remains tied to the Hindu calendar system and is used to set the various Bengali Hindu festivals. For Bengalis of West Bengal and other Indian states, the festival falls either on 14 or 15 April every year. The current Bengali calendar in use in the Indian states is based on the Sanskrit text Surya Siddhanta. It retains the historic Sanskrit names of the months, with the first month as Baishakh.[36]Bangladesh

Mangal Shobhajatra at Pohela Boishakh in Bangladesh. UNESCO recognises Mangal Shobhajatra as cultural heritage.[41]
The Bengali New Year is observed as a public holiday in Bangladesh. It is celebrated across religious boundaries by its Muslim majority and Hindu minority.[42] According to Willem van Schendel and Henk Schulte Nordholt, the festival became a popular means of expressing cultural pride and heritage among the Bangladeshi as they resisted Pakistani rule in the 1950s and 1960s.[43]

The day is marked with singing, processions, and fairs. Traditionally, businesses start this day with a new ledger, clearing out the old which often involves inviting loyal customers and offering sweetmeats to them. This festival is called Haal Khata. Singers perform traditional songs welcoming the new year. People enjoy classical Jatra plays. People wear festive dress with women desking their hair with flowers. White-red color combinations are particularly popular.[44]

Bangladeshis prepare and enjoy a variety of traditional festive foods on Pohela Boishakh. These include panta bhat (watered rice), ilish bhaji (fried hilsa fish) and many special bhartas (pastes).[45][44]In Dhaka

Students of Charukala (Fine Arts) Institute, Dhaka University preparing masks for Pohela Boishakh

Colorful celebration of Pohela Boishakh in Dhaka
The celebrations start in Dhaka at dawn with a rendition of Rabindranath Tagore's song "Esho he Boishakh" by Chhayanaut under the banyan tree at Ramna (the Ramna Batamul). An integral part of the festivities is the Mangal Shobhajatra, a traditional colourful procession organised by the students of the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka (Charukala). According to the history, the rudimentary step of Mangal Shobhjatra was started in Jessore by Charupith, a community organisation, in 1985. Later in 1989 the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka arranged this Mangal Shobhajatra with different motifs and themes. Now, the Mangal Shobhajatra is celebrated by different organisation in all over the country.[46]

The Dhaka University Mangal Shobhajatra tradition started in 1989 when students used the procession to overcome their frustration with the military rule. They organised the festival to create masks and floats with at least three theme, one highlighting evil, another courage, and a third about peace.[10] It also highlighted the pride of Bangladeshi people for their folk heritage irrespective of religion, creed, caste, gender or age.[10]

In recent years, the procession has a different theme relevant to the country's culture and politics every year. Different cultural organisations and bands also perform on this occasion and fairs celebrating Bengali culture are organised throughout the country. Other traditional events held to celebrate Pohela Boishakh include bull racing in Munshiganj, Boli Khela (wrestling) in Chittagong, Nouka Baich (boat racing), cockfights, pigeon racing.[India

Pohela Boishakh Festive Meal
Bengalis of India have historically celebrated Pohela Boishakh, and it is an official regional holiday in its states of West Bengal and Tripura. The day is also called Nabo Barsho.[49]

West Bengal
Pohela Boisakh has been the traditional New Year festival in the state, with the new year referred to as the Noboborsho.[23] The festival falls on 14 or 15 April, as West Bengal follows its traditional Bengali calendar, which adjusts for solar cycle differently than the one used in Bangladesh where the festival falls on 14 April.[50]

Notable events of West Bengal include the early morning cultural processions called Prabhat Pheri. These processions see dance troupes and children dressed up with floats, displaying their performance arts to songs of Rabindranath Tagore.[51]


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